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Tales of the Town


The Return of the Prodigal Son

Danny Eagleton walked out of Terminal A at Oakland Airport, smelled the fresh salt air, felt the soft Spring mist settling on his face, saw the East Bay hills verdant in the distance, and knew he was home.

His Lyft was right where it was supposed to be, a late model white Toyota Camry. He shuffled over to it, peered through the window. His driver—a young woman named Cindy—nodded. He climbed in, dragging his suitcase with him.

“Good trip?” she asked, as he buckled in.

“Yup. Good to be back in the Town.”

Cindy chuckled, as she began negotiating the exit route towards the 880 Freeway. “I know what you mean.”

Nothing had changed in the two years he’d been gone, Danny thought. The same fast food restaurants and gas stations along Hegenberger. Then, approaching the freeway, he saw a large construction project, four stories, with masonry walls being put up on steel girders.

“What’s that?” he asked his driver.

“That? Oh, probably another luxury condo. They’re all over town. You should see mid-Broadway. It’s like a whole new city within a city.”

“That’s near to where I’m going,” Danny said. The driver glanced at her iPhone. “Oh, right. I’m taking you to 737 Perkins. You been away for a while?”

“Yeah. Two years.” He figured she’d ask where he’d been, and why, but Cindy said nothing. She’s probably been told not to ask personal questions, Danny thought. So he added, “Been working for a tech firm in Boston. South of Boston, actually. Now, they’ve transferred me back here.”

“Sweet,” Cindy acknowledged, lapsing into silence. Danny glanced at the back of her long, brown hair, at her neck. They were now winding their way north along the 880 through thick traffic. At least that hasn’t changed, Danny thought.

He sat back and became thoughtful. His two years back east had been okay, although not particularly memorable. The money was good, but even so, he hadn’t been able to save much, because his rent in Milton, where he’d lived, was high. He hadn’t really made many friends. And the weather! Don’t even ask. Frigid, snowy winters, blazingly hot, humid summers, with a few nice days wedged in between—days that invariably reminded him of Oakland.

Now that he was back, he’d be bunking for a while with his old college buddy, Nick. Nicholas Claudio Huff was his full name. They’d been roommates at Cal for a couple years, sharing a two-bedroom flat on Channing Way. Nick had been into sports: martial arts, track, weightlifting. Nick was more the artistic type. When he came out, in their senior year, Danny wasn’t all that surprised. He’d suspected Nick was gay, but figured it wasn’t his place to bring the subject up.

Now, Nick was working at Pandora, downtown, and was renting a small flat of his own in Adams Point. He was happy to let his old friend stay there, until Danny could get his bearings and find a place of his own. Danny was idly looking out the window, as the driver went on past the Oak Street turnoff, then veered onto the 980 towards the 580 and Broadway. As she approached 27th Street, Nick he saw the spires and skeletons of the new developments.

“Holy shit!” he murmured, half to himself.

“Yeah,” Cindy replied. “They’re like cancer. Gentrification. My rent’s almost doubled since I moved into my place, four years ago. I’m thinking of moving someplace else. Portland, maybe.”

Twenty-seventh was crowded with construction workers in orange jackets. It was lunchtime, and the men (and a few women) were sitting on walls, ledges and curbs, or in their cars, munching on their sandwiches and tacos and drinking colas and water. Food trucks lined the street. When Danny had left two years previously, this area was dead, with unbusy auto repair shops and struggling car dealerships. He could hardly believe his eyes.

Cindy took back streets through the hills above Piedmont Avenue, then crossed the 580 overpass at Adams Street and maneuvered her way through Adams Point, with the GPS lady directing her. Then, there it was, No. 737 Perkins, a three-story beige-colored structure with red pillars and balconies with weird art deco railings.

“Here we are,” Cindy announced, pulling over. Danny thanked her, then rolled the dice. She was cute. He’d lost touch with his girlfriends in the years since he’d been gone. Did she mind if he called her sometime? She smiled shyly (cute!) and said no, she didn’t mind. Danny filed it for future reference.

After she drove off, he stood there for a while, suitcase on the sidewalk beside him, before texting Nick. He just wanted to feel back in Oakland again, to feel himself feeling. An old man passed by, walking a fluffy little white dog. Two young guys across the street were laughing. A Mexican woman, short and stout, was wheeling a baby carriage. Two Somali women came from around the corner, tiny little things, their heads covered with lacy, pastel-colored scarfs. Nick caught something from the corner of his eye, and turned. A Black sagger kid was zooming down Perkins on a lime green scooter, swerving around a double-parked UPS truck. The driver, in brown shirt and shorts, sat behind the wheel, listening to talk radio. From a window somewhere Danny heard the throb of a bass line: someone was listening to dance music. It was the ebb and flow, the flora and fauna of Oakland. After the sterility of Milton, population 27,000 and overwhelmingly white, Danny had to smile. Welcome back to The Town, he said to himself. Then he texted Nick: I’m downstairs.

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